Mine sweeping the harbour – Dunmore 1917

A new method of warfare in WWI was the use submarines in deploying mines.  Initially the presence of these explosives would only be known when an unfortunate ship stumbled upon them. The mine laying subs commenced with the UC I type in 1914 carrying a payload of 12 mines with a limited range.  This was improved on in 1916 with UC II class subs, considered the most successful.  They had an increased payload of 18 mines, faster speed and an extended reach.  

The mines were deployed from underwater.  Each mine dropped to the seabed from a chute.  A dis-solvable plug which reacted with seawater allowed the sub to move away a safe distance before it released a mechanism to allow the mine to float clear of its anchor weight and it rose to a pre-set distance on a cable. The distance was calculated to be always underwater, so invisible, but high enough to strike a ships hull.
An egg mine sketch with the release mechanism

To counter the threat ordinary fishing boats and fishermen were recruited under the Royal Navy Minesweeping Reserve. With some basic training they were redeployed to various ports and waterways.  Many were steel built steam drifters of 2-300 tons and up to 140 foot long.  The skipper and crew were not under naval discipline or expected to wear a uniform.  Their orders came from the Navy.

The method used initially was crude and risky. Two ships with a sunken cable strung between them scoured the channels in order to keep them clear for shipping. The risk was that ships needed to maintain a steady drag as any deviation might allow a snared mine to travel along the cable and strike one of the towing vessels.  By 1916 the method was improved with a kite system which allowed the cable to be steadier, and to ensure that any travelling mines exploded some distance from the ships. Serrated cables were also introduced, but these tended to be only effective with more powerful ships. 
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There was two techniques for dealing with mines.  They could be towed and if their anchoring cables snapped the mine which floated to the surface could be destroyed by gun fire.  Alternatively the snared mine could be towed into shallow water where it floated onto the surface and could then be dealt with.  Unfortunately steam trawlers for fishing were not built with military purposes in mind, and so unlike naval purpose built vessels with double hulls, they were more susceptible to underwater explosions.

City of York, a typical steam trawler of the time

During WWI 726 vessels were employed in mine sweeping and over 250 of them were lost, 214 to mines.  I have not yet come across any details of their operations in Dunmore or the harbour.  But we saw previously how its speculated they may have played a role in luring UC-44 to her doom in Dunmore East.  Two Mine Sweepers that we know of were lost off Dunmore.

The first was HMT Loch Eye, a steam trawler built by the Torry shipbuilders of Aberdeen.  She was built for a local company, the Empire Steam Fishing Company Ltd.  She was requisitioned by the Royal Navy for mine sweeping duties in September 1916.  On April 20th 1917 while operating off Dunmore East she struck a mine and sank with the loss of seven lives.  
These were:

ANDERSON, Thomas 36yrs, Engineman
BAXTER, Albert, Trimmer
FARQUHAR, George, Engineman
KEECH, Reginald 16yrs, Ordinary Seaman
MILNE, Frederick J 26yrs, Trimmer, 

NIGHTINGALE, Willie J, Ordinary Seaman
PIRRIE, Robert F 36yrs, Deck Hand
The mine had been laid by UC-33 which was rammed and sank in the following September.  All but one crew of the 28 aboard were killed.

In July another mine-sweeping vessel was lost, the HMT George Milburn.   From what I have read it appears she was on escort duty, en route from Cobh to Milford Haven.  She struck a mine off Dunmore on Thursday July 12th and sank with the loss of 11 lives.

These were:
ANDREWS, William R, Engineman,
BATEMAN, Michael 30yrs, Deck Hand
BLAKE, Reuben J, Deck Hand
BURNETT, George S D K 42yrs, Trimmer
FORREST, William 39yrs, Engineman,
FYFE, Thomas.  27yrs, Deck Hand 
LEES, Robert 19yrs, Deck Hand
LUCAS, George Henry 45yrs Skipper
MCNICHOL, John 32yrs, Leading Seaman
RITCHIE, John AM, 32yrs, Second Hand
SPINK, James F 40yrs, Deck Hand

The mine she struck had been laid by UC-42, which was lost in Cork Harbour in September, with the death of all her crew.
The crews of both trawlers and UC-42 remembered in
Templetown graveyard, Co Wexford
photo via Michael Farrell BGHS

The events around Dunmore East in 1917 will be remembered this weekend when The Barony of Gaultier Historical Society (BGHS) under the chairmanship of Michael Farrell will host an event entitled Friend and Foe.  It sets out to shine a light on these events and bring, if you will pardon an obvious pun, more information to the surface.  It starts this evening with a walk at 4pm looking at the life and times of Dunmore harbour 100 years ago.  A full list of events are available on the BGHS blog page.

Much of the information used today was drawn from Jim Crossley’s book The Hidden Threat, The Royal Naval Minesweeping Reserve in WWI . 2011 Pen & Sword Maritme. Barnsley.  Thanks to Frank Murphy for providing me with the book.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 

and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  

F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

Ice – Waterford’s forgotten trade

There’s nothing as fickle as a market I guess. Products that go from boom to bust in a few short years, or less today when we think of technology.  In the past Waterford, along with many other ports traded in a commodity that was considered an essential for the food industry, Ice.  It was a market that reigned for less that sixty years but there are echoes of it in the harbour still.
My interest in Ice stemmed from finding the Faithlegg Ice House  as a child. This old structure was probably built at the same time as Faithlegg House, 1783, and used by the Boltons for impressing party guests during the summer with cooled drinks, sorbets and ices at a time when it was impossible for most people except in winter. It could also store meat, poultry and fish. Such Ice House designs dated from the 16th C at least and were based on the reality that Ice, once gathered into a cool, dry spot, compacted together and allowing for the run off to drain away below, would keep for months or even years.
Entrance chamber to Faithlegg Ice house
Ice House on Golf Course of Faithlegg House

The other Ice House in the area, was about a mile away, via an old roadway that ran through Faithlegg to Ballycanvan.  You crossed the now removed bridge at Faithlegg Pill into Ballycanvan and down to Jack Meades via the woodlands road. This is a commercially sized Ice House and even today is an impressive structure.

No one seems to know the date it was built. I find it interesting that when travel writer and social commentator Arthur Young visited in 1796 and again in 1798 that he failed to mention it, suggesting it is a later build. Its location is to protect it from the sun, and it has a double wall to the south west which would have further insulated it,  The original entry point was nearer the roof, the current access point is a more modern feature,  Some have suggested it served a similar function to its smaller neighbour, providing for the several big houses in the locality such as Ballycanvan, Mount Druid, Brook Lodge, Blenheim etc.

A third example is an “Ice Box” which Pat Murphy from Cheekpoint helped me locate recently.  The box is a stone and mortar circular structure about 15ft diameter.  Access was via the roof and it is built into the western bank of the river Barrow on the Wexford side, above Great Island. Pat could remember the name clearly and also stories of the paddle steamer stopping in the river below it, and boxes of iced salmon being removed to the ship for transport to New Ross and, he presumed, export.

Ceiling doorway to the Icebox
Icebox, hidden away in the bank of the River Barrow

The Ice used in such structures was originally gathered from frozen streams, but at the time that Faithlegg was built a new technique had emerged.  Due to the enormous resources, particularly man power, such houses had, it was a practice to flood a flat area of land close to a stream during a cold snap. I’ve found what I imagine to be the Faithlegg ice field below the current Park Rangers ground only recently. Unfortunately none of the older residents can confirm the theory however. Such streams and flat fields are features of the other sites too.

In America a new business emerged in the early 1800’s which became known as the Ice trade and the commodity had extended to Norway by the 1850’s.  American Ice had made its way to Britain but was not considered commercially viable, the merchants preferring the locally sourced material, despite its poorer quality. However a rise in temperatures seems to have impacted the home grown trade, and initially speculator merchants travelled northwards to source ice, but it really picked up once the Norwegians saw the potential. Ice was cut into blocks in Norway and transported to Ireland and throughout Europe. The blocks were put aboard ships, insulated with saw dust, to prevent fusing together, and then transported to ports. Merchants tended to store the ice in purpose built buildings or basements and then disperse it as required.

I had speculated as such some years back at a Barony of Gaultier Historical Society talk that I gave in the fishing industry of the harbour.  It came as a relief to me thereafter when Tommy Deegan on the Waterford History Group facebook page posted the following:
“In Jan. 1864 Messrs. O’Meara and Brennan owners of a large warehouse in Bridge St. purchased 100 tons of ice from a Scandinavian ship and reloaded the ship with cattle fodder. They covered the ice with a large quantity of sawdust in the warehouse, which preserved the ice until summer when it could be sold at a large profit.”

Subsequently I have discovered that newspapers of the time are full of ads and other coverage of the trade by merchants and fish mongers in cities such as Dublin, Belfast and Cork. Their businesses were forced to close at the start of WWI when the sea trade was curtailed.  After the war the new technology of refrigeration was the issue and soon the trade would be consigned to history.  Only echos now remain in the harbour, but the echoes are significant, especially to the curious.

Postscript:  The Barony Echo, newsletter of the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society carries a brief mention of ships arriving to Passage East from Nova Scotia carrying Ice for the cellars of Waterford in their most recent edition.

Since publication a new initiative in Lismore Co Waterford has come to my attention.  I was aware of the big house Ice House at Lismore  but not two commercial sized houses under one roof on the Fermoy road, Two pieces here:  A blog from Waterford in Your Pocket: http://www.waterfordinyourpocket.com/lismore-ice-houses-to-be-preserved/ And a press piece from the Examiner: http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/19th-century-ice-houses-to-be-preserved-390925.html

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales
Thanks to Pat Murphy and Liam Hartley for their help with this piece.  Also Tommy Deegan on the Waterford History Group.
Ref: Buxham. T.   Icehouses.  2008.  Shire Publications.  Buckinghamshire.